Dear Billy

(Part of my series Letters to Dead People)

Dear Billy,

Yesterday you met the Lord you loved and served. It’s doubtless you heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” You finished your 99-year run, you finished the race, you kept the faith–and shared it with millions.

I remember watching your crusades on TV with my paternal grandparents when I was no more than three or four years of age. You had an earnestness and clarity about your preaching that attracted me even at that young age. I continued to watch even later on in life if I knew you were on. At one point, TBN began running reruns of your crusades on Saturday night, an island of evangelical orthodoxy in the midst of their heretical and hypocritical lineup of sermons by Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and their ilk.

I didn’t know this until much later, but I wasn’t the only one in my family to benefit from your teaching. My maternal grandmother, many years before I was born, heard and accepted the gospel while watching one of your crusades on TV. She had grown up in Berlin as a nominal Lutheran. After marrying my grandfather, an American, and moving to the U.S., she attended a small Baptist church which, by her admission, did nothing for her. But, regarding you, she would tell me, “Now, Billy Graham–he made sense to me.” Your clear, articulate, intelligent teaching style struck her in a way no preacher in her background ever had.

You touched more than my family, though. From Presidents of the United States to the Queen of England herself, who you particularly impressed, your impact and influence were broad. They each sought your counsel, and you gave it freely, regardless of who was seeking. Notably, and all the more important to reflect on in our current time, you distanced yourself from the partisan aspect of politics, particularly after the Watergate scandal. You often reiterated that there was no entirely Christian political party. As you said in one interview when asked why you never joined Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, which promoted right-leaning politics based on a very specific set of social values, “I’m all for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice.”

What you will be remembered for most, however, is not your influence on significant figures of the 20th Century, but on the common person for the Kingdom of God. While I haven’t always agreed with alter-call revivalism, and I worry that many false conversions can come from momentary emotional experience or peer pressure, the truth is–for whatever number of false conversions came from any crusade–there were genuine ones in the mix, as well. Numerous souls now know the love of God because he used you here on earth.

(Cover image: Billy Graham, courtesy of the Billy Graham Library)